Marblehead Little Theatre’s ‘Party?’ delivers a funny, bittersweet punch

Linda Werbner
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Stella Adler, the founder of the prestigious Stella Adler Studio of Acting, whose alumni include Robert De Niro, Salma Hayek and Marlon Brando, famously observed that “the theatre is a spiritual and social X-ray of its time.”

“Party?,” the new ensemble comedy which opened at the Marblehead Little Theater on Jan. 20, does just that.

This wicked, witty romp, which the play’s author and Marblehead resident, Anne M. Lucas, aptly describes as a cross-pollination of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” meets Neil Simon, packs a bittersweet punch as it takes the audience on a rollicking spiritual and social X-ray of three marriages — couples in their 20s, 50s and 70s.

With its spot-on comic timing and spitfire exchanges, “Party?” nimbly captures multiple relationship crossroads in a funny, take-no-prisoners and warts-and-all style.

The play is New York-bound, Lucas says. Next year it will grace a New York stage.  “Marblehead is a test audience for the play.”

Throughout Lucas’ one-act play, the audience laughed, gasped and even cheered as the eight actors brought to life Lucas’ story of three relationships, each with their unique struggles and challenges, triumphs and failures.

The play opens in the bedroom of Aaron (Ed Siegal) and Diana (Sharon Mason) in their posh New York apartment as they prepare to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Played with caustic, insufferable narcissism by Ed Siegal, Aaron is a 50ish, patronizing, pedantic and particular Morgan Stanley executive.

When we meet him, Aaron is barking out positive affirmations about himself into the mirror – “I am fit, fun and fascinating!” – pulled from the pages of ‘Male Satisfaction Over 40’ by Dr. Stang, a book he has adopted as a blueprint for living.

Diana (Sharon Mason) is accommodating and eager to please, putting herself second and enduring Aaron’s slights and criticisms and scampering to make sure his smoothies and organic chicken salads are just right and his ties, which she has lovingly selected from Bergdorf Goodman, are perfect.

Mason adroitly captures Diana’s dilemma with her expressive face and eager-to-please manner. She has no idea her husband of 25 years plans to announce he is divorcing her during the anniversary party in front of his parents, Esther (Betty Lautner) and Felix (James DeSantis) and their twentysomething son, Kason (Michael Mazzone), and his fiancée Caitlyn, (Victoria Berube). Aaron’s nonchalant, cheerfully sadistic attitude about why he plans to end his marriage takes the audience’s breath away.

“I am bored by her cheerful optimism,” he quips to his baffled and outraged son and father. “I made a mistake getting married, and I’m just not in love with her.” Aaron is dutifully following the advice of his mentor Dr. Stang to reach personal perfection and delete anyone and anything that gets in the way.

With “Party?” Lucas has tapped into America’s slavish attention to the self-centered and narcissistic social media culture of influencers and gurus, the drive to be the best version of yourself, whatever the cost, no matter whom you have to trample and wound in the process.

Her characters self-diagnose with ridiculous maladies that could have come from the pages of the DSM-5, like MDD (male dissatisfaction disorder) and UMM (unhappy male madness).

Aaron and Diana’s son, Jason, played with earnest insight by Mazzone, is outraged and horrified by his father’s selfish and cruel admission. “How could you humiliate her in front of us?” he asks. An impoverished graduate student, he is newly engaged to Caitlyn (smartly performed with delicious indignation by Swampscott’s Victoria Berube), a feminist who wants a polyamorous relationship that Jason struggles to accept. As a Gen Zer, Caitlyn doesn’t exactly trust the institution of marriage, she admits.

Meanwhile, we learn that Aaron’s parents, Esther and Felix, who appear to be a settled, happily-married couple in their 70s, have also weathered storms and struggles in their marriage.

Played with empathy and wisdom by James DeSantis, Felix had a midlife crisis of sorts when he was Aaron’s age. Unlike Aaron, he and Esther (performed with warmth and comic brilliance by Broadway veteran Betty Lautner) worked through their problems. “People of our generation stayed together,” Felix explains to Aaron.

What follows is an emotional bumper car ride with unexpected twists and turns. Each character has an awakening of sorts, but without giving away too much, Diana’s journey somehow feels like the most significant of all.

Asked about the impetus behind “Party?” Lucas explains that she wrote this play because she felt that “so many women are in relationships with narcissistic men, and they don’t understand why they are in such a painful situation. My hope is that people will see something that will help them.”

Director Myriam Cyr brings a deft comic touch to Lucas’ funny material. Cyr, an award-winning actor, poet and critically acclaimed writer who lives in Beverly, is directing at the MLT for the first time. She has appeared on New York and London stages, including working opposite Al Pacino in Salome. In 2021, Cyr was voted Best Director in the Broadway World Regional Awards for her work in the Gloucester Stage production of Reparations.

Cyr marvels at how smoothly the production unfolded. “When I arrived, the set was already designed and the play was cast. The lighting is amazing, and the actors are just gems. We’ve really come together as a team.

 “It’s been a fantastic experience,” she continues. “The MLT is a phenomenal space. This production runs like clockwork. And it’s very funny, this play. It’s rare to see a funny new play. I hope it will be sold out and that this play has a career and others will want to stage it.”

Although they traveled in similar theatrical circles and admired one another’s work, Cyr and Lucas had never collaborated on a project. “Anne and I had been looking for something to work on together. We have become real friends in the process of staging this play,” Cyr said.

Asked about the mysterious question mark in the play’s title, Lucas laughs and responds coyly, “I don’t want to spoil it. You just have to come to the MLT and see the play.”

“Party?” runs through Jan. 29 at the Marblehead Little Theater, 12 School St. Visit to learn more.

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